The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is the latest from the Chinese phone maker and it boasts a wide array of high-end features. Priced a few hundreds bucks cheaper than its main competition, the unlocked handset works with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile.
On paper, the Axon 30 Ultra is one of the strongest phones of the year. Thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, no less than 8GB RAM, and a 64-megapixel quad-camera configuration, it has the makings of a “best of the year” type of experience.
How does it handle in real world and day-to-day usage? Is it a dark horse candidate that begs for consideration? Or does it fall short on delivery? Read on to find out our thoughts on the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra.
First and foremost, this is a gorgeous phone. In fact, even after we placed it in the carrying case that comes in the box, we feel like it’s exposed and vulnerable; we’re nearly afraid to have it out.
The Axon 30 Ultra is also a large phone. At 6.7-inches, the AMOLED screen is among the bigger ones on the market. What’s more, it has a 2,400 x 1,800 pixel resolution and up to 144Hz refresh rate.
The bezels around the screen are very slim with the display curving ever so slightly around the edge. We’re generally not a fan of these types of screens because they lend to accidental swipes and/or unread swipes.
Around back we locate four cameras in the top left corner. The module is rather pronounced, emerging from the back and taking up a fair amount of real estate. This is largely due to the rest of the phone being so slim.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the aluminum Axon 30 Ultra is a treat to look over. Our review unit, which is “black” looks to be more like a gunmetal or silver and it has just the right blend of matte finish.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is powered by an Android 11-based MyOS11 which largely resembles a stock experience. There are very few extras installed here, and because it isn’t sold through a carrier, there are no bloatware or “value added” apps that come from service providers.
If you like your Android unadulterated and straightforward, you’ll like what’s on offer. However, if you like to customize your experience a bit, there are plenty of options available. The deeper you dive, the more settings you’ll find.
One such setting that appreciate is under “Features” which lets us decide how sensitive the edges are for mistouches. We’re also fond of the number of gestures and settings we can use and that they are not an “all or nothing’ approach. Oh, and the number of quick settings available from the notification bar is staggering.
As a stock Android purists, we had little trouble with the way things are presented here. It’s easy to find your way around, make adjustments, and customize the experience.
The ZTE Axon 30 Ultra is a snappy phone that doesn’t stutter or lag but we never expected that. We loaded this up with as many accounts and daily usage apps that we could think of and never once saw the phone show any signs of weakness. With this much memory (8GB) paired with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor it could be a few years before we see that being an issue.
The phone is a treat to look at and hold, but it is almost too thin and slippery. Should you opt to not have a protective case on it you may find it escapes your grasp easier than your previous phones.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is quick to read and placed in a convenient spot. Unlocking the phone results in a fun on-screen animation and sound that lets you know it’s happened. On a semi-related note, you can also opt for an always-on display with various clock and notifications settings.
The screen is a lovely one that responds well to touch. Games look great at practically any refresh rate, but it’s always fun to dial things up to 144Hz. Truth be told it is tough to really see the difference from 120Hz and 144Hz but a lot of apps don’t really lean into high refresh yet. With that it in mind, you can set the refresh at 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz. Just know that the higher you go, the more of an impact it will have on your battery.
Axon 30 Ultra Camera Samples
Camera samples resized to 1920p width, no other edits.
Speaking of battery, the 4600mAh power source is a strong one that lasts well into the day, even beyond. Charging is very fast, and just a few minutes of being plugged in is all it might take to get you over the last hurdle of a long day of usage.
When it comes to the topic of cameras, thus far we’ve been relatively impressed with things. The Axon 30 Ultra features three 64-megapixel lenses, a standard, ultra-wide (120 degree), and portrait. Additionally, it has an 8-megapixel telephoto lens with 5X optical/60x hybrid zoom on the rear.
In our time with the phone we’ve found it captures a pretty consistent image, regardless of lens. Daylight photos look tremendous and the amount of detail is higher than expected, especially for the ultra-wide.
Lower light situations also performed better than anticipated. The Axon 30 Ultra takes surprisingly quick pictures even when HDR or other settings are dialed up.
Saturation does run a little high from time to time, but a quick edit in your favorite photo app can fix things ahead of sharing online. With that said, you could probably leave them alone and be satisfied with results.
We tend to take a lot of photos using the portrait mode on our phones as the depth of field always makes subjects stand out. With that said, it does sometimes appear to struggle with outlines between subject and background. You can adjust pictures after the fact, but moving the needle too far in the direction of background blur will occasionally result in a wonky cutout-like picture.
We had two quibbles with the app itself but both are minor in the scheme of things. First, the phone defaults to adding a watermark to each image with the model number in the bottom corner. That’s an easy fix as there’s a toggle in the settings.
The other nuisance is that the camera shutter sound is always present. There’s no way around it, at least as of today. We’re hoping for a fix in a future software update.
These things aside, we’re having a lot of fun playing with the numerous filters, lenses, and settings. The app is rather intuitive and takes just a few moments to get the handle of things. Suffice it to say, you shouldn’t be taking any boring photos with the Axon 30 Ultra.
There is an awful lot to like about the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra, especially its price tag. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect device.
Two features we increasingly find in flagship and high-end models, water resistance and wireless charging, are not present here. For some either one of those could be a deal breaker or reason to spend an extra $50 on an alternative.
The phone is a fun one to play with as its large display is almost mesmerizing, especially when playing around with the camera. Games and videos look silky smooth with the (up to) 144Hz refresh rate and the 20:9 aspect ratio feels very comfortable.
It will be at least two years before our mobile needs even come close to requiring the hardware of this device. Few of us have Wi-Fi 6 networks in our homes or offices and 5G will continue to be a work in progress for the foreseeable future. However, when those become commonplace the Axon 30 Ultra will have already celebrated its first anniversary.
The topic of performance is a non-starter. We did our best to throw games and multi-tasking at it and didn’t see it struggle once. Surely you can find an outlet that has benchmarks or who measures frame rate drops, but we suspect they’ll still find this one a good value proposition.
If you’re an AT&T or T-Mobile customer, or subscribe to one of their MVNO/prepaid brands, you’ll have no issues with support. Verizon subscribers have to sit this one out.
You can learn more about the ZTE Axon 30 Ultra at the manufacturer’s website where it’s also available to purchase. As of today the 8GB/128GB option is priced $750 with the 12GB/256GB model at $850.